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Preview: Sweden vs. Czech Republic

May 7, 20:15 at PostFinance Arena, Berne

07-05-09
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Quebec City Quebec Canada
The Swedes and Czechs should give each other a tough battle. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHoF-IIHF Images.

SWEDEN

 

What to Watch
This has been a rough ride for Sweden. That they’ve come this far is something, but then again we are talking about Sweden, a perennial contender in World Championship play. If they are going to advance into the semi-finals and have a shot at anything, they will have to knock off the Czechs. These countries have had recent encounters in World Championship playoff competition that decided their medal fortunes. In 2005, the Czechs defeated Sweden 3-2 in overtime in the semi-finals on their way to a gold medal. In 2006, Sweden returned the favor, defeating the Czech Republic in the final 4-0.

 

Who to Watch
Since joining the team, Johnny Oduya has played well. In two games the New Jersey Devils defenseman has two goals and an assist. Linus Omark began the tournament with a bang, registering five assists in the opening game. Since then he’s cooled off, but is still averaging a point per game over the last five. He leads Sweden in scoring with two goals and eight helpers. Kristian Huselius and Mattias Weinhandl have added four goals and three assists apiece. Kenny Jonsson is an impressive +11 on defense.

 

Strengths
Leadership is important for Sweden. They have so many players who have played at this level in the World Championships before and will approach this quarterfinal single elimination game as they have done with any other tournament in the past. Kenny Jonsson personifies this leadership with his quiet poise on the backline. Jonsson has been a member of the national team going back to 1994. He’s won two Olympic gold medals and another at the World Championships in 2006.

Goaltending
The goaltending trio has met with mixed results. Stefan Liv and Johan Holmqvist have had limited success. Jonas Gustavsson has played in three games but carries a gaudy goals against average of 3.42. This is a critical time when goaltending carries the day, but there seem to be question marks here for Sweden.

 

 

CZECH REPUBLIC

 

What to Watch
The Czech Republic has an incredible group of skaters on paper. They could and should be able to get the goals they need and apply plenty of offensive pressure but they are among the final teams in the tournament with a chance to win a medal. The Czech Republic will have to show that they are up to the task of bringing home a gold medal for the first time since 2005.

 

Who to Watch
Jaromir Jagr immediately draws attention when he’s on the ice. With three goals and six assists, Jagr is tied for the team lead in scoring, but it seems like a very quiet nine points. In other words, he’s getting chances but does not seem to dominate like the Jagr of old.

Petr Cajanek is enjoying something of a renaissance. His four goals leads the team. And he is playing quite well. Patrik Elias has scored two goals in two games, and look for him to provide more, especially with man advantage opportunities. Miroslav Blatak has impressed so far with three goals. As a defenseman, his booming shot from the point comes in quite handy.

 

Strengths
Skilled forwards on almost every line makes the Czech Republic fun to watch, but also extremely tough to play against. Like Russia, they have balanced scoring throughout the lineup. One player leads the team with four goals (Cajanek), followed by two with three goals and five with two goals. Among those with two are Elias, Ales Hemsky, Ales Kotalik, and Jan Marek. Tomas Plekanec hasn’t scored a goal yet. This gives you the sense that they are not relying on one line or combination to get them going.

 

Goaltending
Jakub Stepanek is something of a mystery. He’s won three of the five games he’s played or the Czechs and has a 1.88 goals-against average, but he’s not flashy nor does he draw attention to himself. All he has done in this tournament is play well behind his skaters, giving them the chance to win games. Martin Prusek has two wins and a loss with a 1.76 goals-against average. 

 

JOHN SANFUL

 

 

 

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